Duncan Grant’s Queer, Erotic Art Is Keeping This Museum Afloat During COVID

Duncan Grant’s Queer, Erotic Art Is Keeping This Museum Afloat During COVID

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In October of last year, the intensely personal erotic sketches of British artist Duncan Grant were brought to light in order to save the museum and gallery the artist once lived in.

“In Oct 2020, an extraordinary collection of over 400 erotic sketches by British artist, Duncan Grant (1885-1978), came to light. The collection was thought to have been destroyed but had secretly been passed from lover to lover, friend to friend, for over 60yrs.”

Born in 1885, Grant was a central figure of the Bloomsbury Group — a collective of artists, poets, writers and thinkers that included Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, Clive Bell and E. M. Forster among others. Grant had many lovers, most of whom were men, as well as a child with Vanessa Bell, who was married to art critic Clive Bell. In fact, at one point Vanessa, Clive, Duncan Grant and Grant’s lover David Garnett all moved in together.

The Bloomsbury Group were known to be free thinkers with modern attitudes.

Duncan Grant, ‘Venus and Adonis’ c.1919, oil on canvas. Tate Collection. Copyright: Estate of Duncan Grant; photograph: Tate

As the Twitter thread proclaims, “The writer Dorothy Parker is said to have quipped that [the Bloomsbury Group] paints in circles, lives in squares and loves in triangles.’”

Because Duncan Grant and his friends lived under the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, which criminalized homosexual activity in England, he could never live openly as a queer man. His erotic illustrations depicting men engaged in acts of sex with one another were given to his friend, Edward le Bas, in 1959 and marked “very private.”

“It was thought that Le Bas’ sister had destroyed them after he had died, but she hadn’t. The collection had secretly been passed from lover to lover, friend to friend, until they wound up in the hands of theatre designer Norman Coates, who kept them under his bed for 11 years.”

“Charleston Farmhouse where Grant lived is now a museum & gallery. After learning the Charleston was at risk of insolvency after coronavirus, Coates generously donated the collection to Charleston, where [it] remains.”

The work of Duncan Grant, lovingly and carefully passed on in secret, is finally out for everyone to see.

For those of you in the UK, you can go see the exhibit, “Duncan Grant: 1920,” from now until March 13, 2022.

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